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Canceling the Summer Slump: A summer series based on the Apostles' Creed

Lyle Schaller, the church-growth guru, suggests that one strategy for revitalizing a church is to cancel the "summer slump." Most churches do go through a slump period in the summer: the pastor and the choir go on vacation; the Sunday School doesn't meet; and church attendance drops dramatically. Schaller points out that summer is also the time when the greatest number of visitors (and potential new members) come through most churches, so he advocates maintaining a full program throughout the summer.

That may be a realistic plan for a large church with multiple staff, but many smaller congregations (and their pastors) really need this restful season. What they might try instead is a summer program that is festive and special, but that also allows everyone time to recharge their batteries.

Our church has been experimenting with such a summer series. By coordinating worship, education, and evangelism, we've discovered ways of getting extra mileage out of all of our efforts.

The Planning Process

As we began planning for this series, we formulated a list of goals for the summer:

l. We wanted to build on the previous year's Bible School experience; however, we had recently lost our building to a fire and had neither space nor stamina for an intensive, week-long extravaganza.

2. We wanted to lay the groundwork for reviving our Adult Sunday School. To do so we needed to begin an adult study class that was not dependent on the pastor's presence, a group that would have the momentum to continue during Sunday School hour in the fall.

3. We wanted to initiate a small group program, following the Serendipity model, to which members could comfortably invite their non-Christian friends—a nonthreatening arena for evangelism.

4. We wanted to increase our congregation's comfort with having children in worship.

5. We wanted to increase our children's enjoyment of worship.

6. We wanted to give everyone a break from the work and pressure of the previous season, which had included an intense adult Bible study class involving a great deal of homework. We agreed that summer church involvement should relieve stress, not add to it.

As I look at this list, it seems fairly typical of a small church with limited resources attempting to do some interesting things. At the same time, it will not be quite like any other church's list. Before you can decide whether our solution will fit your situation, you need your own set of goals. For example, maybe in your congregation summer is the time when people have the most time and are most open to a serious challenge from the church.

A Summer Model

We decided that we would run Bible School over the course of six Wednesday evenings during July and August. The focus would be on an adult class, built around a Serendipity curriculum. Serendipity has a wealth of easy-to-use resources, but the one we chose was Beginning a Basics Group: Six Sessions to Examine Your Faith, a class that surveys the Apostles' Creed. To enable all interested adults to attend, we planned to offer a class for children at the same time (and on the same topic). The pastor and two high school students agreed to take responsibility for the children's class, thus freeing everyone else to be at the adult study.

Since the Serendipity curriculum is oriented more to group building than to substantive study, and since there would be no teacher for the group, only a facilitator, we also agreed that it would be helpful to have the summer's preaching support the study. We decided to give the pastor the first word, rather than the last; so for seven weeks the sermon was on the text that would be studied the following Wednesday. Those who had been to worship could come into the discussion group ready to respond.

We hoped that by integrating education and worship, we might increase participation in both. Since our Sunday School program goes on hiatus for the summer, many of our children simply stay home on Sunday. Our church planners thought that this coordinated effort might end up not only increasing adult involvement in education but also increasing the children's involvement in worship. If the worship could be connected to what the children were doing on Wednesday nights, wouldn't they be more likely to come? If we sang songs that they knew and understood, wouldn't they find worship more meaningful?

From this discussion came the idea of replacing the standard hymn of praise at the beginning of the worship service with a more extended time of singing, rather like the song time that begins our children's Sunday School. We agreed that each Sunday at least one familiar children's song from Sunday School would be included, to help the children feel more comfortable in worship. We would also try generally to sing simpler, more contemporary "Praise and Worship" songs, which the children would be able to understand and learn.

We knew that introducing Praise and Worship music into our service would require teaching a new repertoire of hymns and praise songs to our congregation, something that many members would normally resist. During the summer, however, people expect things to be less formal, and the quantity of singing in these services allowed us to sing some very familiar hymns in addition to the new songs. The frequent repetition of certain hymns throughout the series is an intentional effort to add them to the congregation's repertoire. Our ancient hymnals were useless for these purposes, so we replaced them with a photocopied Song Supplement for the summer. Since we belong to Christian Copyright Licensing, Inc., we were able to do this legally with a minimum of fuss.

Theme Tune

The versatile hymn tune BUNESSAN, which is used at least once in each service, ties this series together. It is always the tune for the Benediction Song, often the tune for the Call to Worship, and is sometimes even used as an opening hymn. The most familiar text for this tune is "Morning Has Broken," but several newer hymnals also use it for other texts that worked well for this series: "Christ Beside Me," "O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus," "Baptized in Water," and "God of the Ages."

When we couldn't find an appropriate stanza to conclude the service on the Holy Spirit, we simply wrote our own. Our Director of Music never wants to hear this tune again, but the rest of the congregation has now internalized it forever!

A Pattern for Praise

In these service plans, I've included the song titles, Scripture, and sermon focus that we used in our six summer worship services. Adapt them and fit them into your congregation's order of worship for a praise-filled way of avoiding the summer slump!

 

Excerpt
WEEK 1: I Believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.
Worship and Praise

Call to Worship:

"Morning Has Broken," stanzas 1 and 2, sung by the pastor.
[GA 317, HWC 60, PH 469, WC 362]

Songs of Praise for God Our Creator and Father
[Congregation rises for the last song; all stanzas need not be sung.]

"This Is My Father's World"
[HWC 58, PH 293, PsH 436, RL 14, TH 111, WC 384]

"The Birds upon the Tree-Tops"
[Al 24]

"Abba Father"
[HWC 15]

"All Things Bright and Beautiful"
[HWC 578, PH 267, PsH 435, RL 15, TH 120, WC 57]

Scripture Lessons and Sermon

Psalm 103, read responsively
Exodus 3:1-15
Romans 8:1-17

Sermon: Our Eternal Daddy

The Serendipity lesson uses the story of Moses at the burning bush to introduce the first person of the Trinity. I chose to balance that by adding the Romans reading and exploring the union in God of eternal power and fatherly tenderness.

Response of Praise and Commitment

Hymns of Response:
[Since the sermon looks at two sides of God the Father and Creator, we sang two songs of response.]

"Abba Father"
[HWC 15]

"We Will Glorify"
[HWC 72, WC 118]

Hymn of Commitment:

"Holy Ground"
[JMT 35]

Benediction Song:

"Morning Has Broken," stanza 3

WEEK 2: I Believe in Jesus Christ, His Only Son, Our Lord.

Worship and Praise

Call to Worship:

"Christ Beside Me," sung by the pastor
[WC 543]

Worship and Praise for Jesus Christ Our Lord:

"We Will Glorify"
[HWC 72, WC 118]

"Jesus Loves Even Me"
[A1-7]

"Jesus, Name Above All Names"
[HWC 112, WC 106]

"Fairest Lord Jesus"
[HWC 88, PH 306, PsH 461, RL 370, TH 170, WC 115]

Confession and Pardon

[In lieu of a standard prayer of confession, the congregation is given a time of silence for personal confession, which concludes with a sung prayer.]

"Jesus Prayer"
[JMT 491]

Scripture Lessons and Sermon

Psalm 121
Matthew 16:13-28

Sermon: Rocky Faith

The Serendipity lesson uses Peter's confession to explore how we experience Jesus in our lives. The sermon focuses on the essential need to confess Jesus as Christ and God, not just to view him as a moral teacher or exemplary person.

Response of Praise and Commitment

Hymn of Response:

"Alleluia, Alleluia, Give Thanks to the Risen Lord"
DMT 3, PH 106, PsH 402, WC 240]

Hymn of Commitment:

"I Surrender All"
[HWC 366, WC 579]

Benediction Song:

"Christ Beside Me" stanza 4
[WC 543]

WEEK 3: I Believe in the Holy Spirit.

Worship and Praise

Call to Worship:

"Send Us Your Spirit," stanza 1, sung by cantor or choir member soloist
[GA 189]

Worship and Praise for the Holy Spirit

"Holy, Holy"
[HWC 266, PH 140]

"Spirit of the Living God"
[HWC 247, PH 322, PsH 424, TH 726, WC 297]

"Breathe on Me, Breath of God"
[HWC 259, PH 316, PsH 420, TH 334, WC 295]

"Holy, Holy, Holy"
[HWC 262, PH 138, PsH 249, RL 611, TH 100, WC 2]

Special Music:

"Send Us Your Spirit," stanzas 2-4, sung by choir member soloist
[GA 189]

Scripture Lessons and Sermon

Psalm 34
Acts 2:1-4,14-17
John 15:26-16:15

Sermon: Set Straight

The curriculum focuses on the story of Pentecost. I added the John passage, which is helpful in explaining the often mysterious nature of the Holy Spirit. The emphasis here is on the Spirit as our guide into truth and as a witness to Jesus. There is also an evangelistic thrust as the Spirit empowers us to bear witness to Jesus.

Response of Praise and Commitment

Hymn of Response:

"Spirit, Now Live in Me"
[WC 284]

Hymn of Commitment:

"Glorify Your Name"
[HWC 29, PsH 634, WC 10]

Benediction Song:

Here is the Spirit moving among us.
Here is the Spirit flaming and free.
Now may the Spirit change and release us,
So all our living worship will be.

WEEK 4: I Believe in ... the Forgiveness of Sins.

[Yes, we have skipped a few articles here. That's the price of following a curriculum. Options are to talk about the church during week 3, in connection with Pentecost; to talk about the church here as the community of the forgiven; or to simply not deal with it. We opted to stick with our curriculum and not try to add in the church.]

Worship and Praise

Call to Worship:

"Softly and Tenderly, Jesus Is Calling," stanzas 1 and 3, sung by the pastor; sing refrain only once, after stanza 3.
[HWC 326, TH 479, WC 441 ]

Worship and Praise to Our Triune God

"God of the Ages"
[HWC 568, WC 363]

"Great Is the Lord"
[HWC 31, WC 44]

"Jesus Loves Me"
[HWC 579, PH 304, PsH 571, RL 457, TH 189, WC 470]

Confession and Assurance

[Instead of singing "Jesus Prayer" we now switch to a longer hymn that paraphrases Psalm 51]

"Search Me, O God"
[HWC 438, WC 460]

Scripture Lessons and Sermon

Psalm 51
Mark 2:1-12

Sermon: The Healing Power of Forgiveness

The lesson uses John Wesley's question: "How is it with your soul?" The sermon attempts to pose the same question. In the story of the healing of the paralytic, Jesus offers not only external healing but internal healing as well.

Response of Praise and Commitment

Hymn of Response:

"Jesus Paid It All"
[HWC 210, TH 308, WC 489]

Hymn of Commitment:

"Just As I Am"
[HWC 342, PH 370, PsH 263, RL 468, TH 501, WC 445]

Benediction Song:

"O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus," stanza 1
[HWC 212, TH 535]

WEEK 5: I Believe in ... the Resurrection of the Body.

Worship and Praise

Call to Worship:

"God of the Ages," stanza 2, sung by choir member soloist
[HWC 568, WC 363]

Worship and Praise to our Triune God

"This Is the Day"
[HWC 590, PsH 241, WC 801]

"Lord, Be Glorified"
[HWC 394, WC 537]

"Alleluia, Alleluia, Give Thanks to the Risen Lord"
[JMT 3, PH 106, PsH 402, WC 240]

Scripture Lessons and Sermon

Psalm 57
John 20:24-29

Sermon: Flesh of Our Flesh

Along with the story of Thomas, the curriculum makes reference to 1 Corinthians 15, with its affirmation of the resurrection in the flesh. In Jesus' physical resurrection, our own embodied natures are affirmed, and we are promised that our future eternal life will also be bodily.

Response of Praise and Commitment

Musical Response:

"I Know That My Redeemer Liveth"
[From Messiah, by G.F.Handel. About this time in the series, it seemed important to remind the hard-core classical music lovers that this is still their church too, so we had "serious" special music!]

Sacrament of Holy Communion

Communion Hymn:

"Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts"
[HWC 501, PH 510, RL 273, TH 646, WC 121]

Hymn of Commitment: "Like a River Glorious"
[HWC 494, PsH 560, TH 699, WC 594]

Benediction Song:

"God of the Ages," stanza 4
[HWC 568, WC 363]

WEEK 6: I Believe in ... Life Everlasting.

Worship and Praise

Call to Worship:

"Blessed Assurance," stanza 1, sung by the pastor, acapella
[HWC 345, PH 341, PsH 490, RL 453, TH 693, WC 514]

Worship and Praise to Our Triune God

"We Will Glorify"
[HWC 72, WC 118]

"Holy Ground"
[JMT 35]

"Blessed Assurance"
[HWC 345, PH 341, PsH 490, RL 453, TH 693, WC 514]

Scripture Lessons and Sermon

Psalm 18:1-30
John 3:1-21
2 Peter 3:8-15a

Sermon: Beyond the Shadowlands

This sermon depended heavily on imagery from C.S. Lewis's books The Last Battle and A Grief Observed. Our comfort is knowing that our present life is but a shadow of the life to come.

Response of Praise and Commitment

Hymn of Response:

"Be Thou My Vision"
[HWC 382, PH 339, RL 67, TH 642, WC 532]

Hymn of Commitment:

"Lift High the Cross"
[HWC 304, PH 371, PsH 373, RL 415, TH 263, WC 229]

Benediction Song:

"God of the Ages," stanza 3
[HWC 568, WC 363]

 


The songs in these service suggestions were selected from the most recent editions of the following: Action Songs for Boys and Girls (Al), Gather (GA), The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration (HWC), The Presbyterian Hymnal (PH), Psalter Hymnal (PsH), Rejoice in the Lord (RL), Songs for Worship, compiled by John Michael Talbot (JMT), Trinity Hymnal (TH), and The Worshiping Church (WC).

For information about the Serendipity curriculum, contact Serendipity House, Box 1012, Littleton, CO 80160 (1-800-525-9563).